Thursday, January 17, 2013

Area Profile: Monument Canyon

OVERVIEW
Independence Tower ahead
approaching Independence Tower
in Monument Canyon
Monument Canyon is one of the premier destinations for hiking, climbing, and canyoneering in Colorado National Monument. The broad, sandstone canyon is home to many amazing rock formations and towers such as the Kissing Couple, the Coke Ovens, and, most famous of all, Independence Monument. This canyon is also home to a wealth of sport and trad routes ranging from moderately difficult to expert only. For the less technically-adept Monument Canyon offers simple hiking, bouldering, and scrambling in a pristine sandstone setting. This is a playground of recreational opportunity in a classic southwestern setting. The Colorado National Monument feels like a displaced (albeit far less-expansive) version of the Castle Valley area in Utah and the climbs more resemble what you would expect to find there than typical Colorado climbing areas.  

GETTING THERE

Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead: on Rim Rock Road in the Colorado National Monument, 8.1 miles from the park's west entrance.

Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead: Follow Grand Avenue from downtown Grand Junction west where it turns into Broadway and crosses the Colorado River. Continue on this road 8 miles through a neighbrhood and past many intersections (the road becomes Highway 340) until you reach a small dirt road marked with a sign for Lower Monument Canyon. This turnoff is notoriously easy to miss so be alert. There is a small parking lot here at this popular trailhead.

HISTORY

Pulling the crux of Otto's Route
The history of the Colorado National Monument and Monument Canyon inevitably begins with John Otto. It was thanks largely to Otto's efforts that the government recognized the Monument's value and placed it under national protection in 1911. Otto was named the park's first "custodian". Among other things, Otto established many trails through the park. He was also fond of bolting and chiseling into the rock when the climbing was too difficult. Though this, of course, is not an accepted practice in this part of the world now, Otto pioneered these routes during a different age. Signs of his work are visible on Liberty Cap trail, in Devil's Kitchen, and, most notably, on Independence Monument here in Monument Canyon. Otto's bolted rebar routes are sometimes jokingly called "Otto Ferrata".

The route Otto established on Independence Monument is still the easiest and standard route today. Named after its developer, Otto's Route is a four-pitch, 5.8+ Grade III. It is one of Colorado's few notable sandstone towers.

HIKING

Bighorn sheep in Monument Canyon
Monument Canyon offers a variety of hiking options, all stemming from the Monument Canyon trail. This 5.2 mile route gains almost 1,500’ of elevation as it winds along the broad shoulder of Monument Canyon. At various locations along its length it offers access to many side adventures, including Independence Monument, Wedding Canyon, numerous sport-climbing routes, and other features. While hiking in Monument Canyon, please try to stay on the trail. For all its ruggedness, the desert is a remarkably fragile environment.

The main trail is one of the more popular routes in the Monument. The trail contours along the western cliffs of Monument Canyon. The usually dry creekbed is almost always far below and away from you. The trail can be accessed from either the upper trailhead off Rim Drive or from the Lower Trailhead off Highway 340. The lower trailhead is popular for casual day hikers and is also the normal approach to Independence Monument and the climbs of the lower canyon. A fun day trip is to start at the upper trailhead and hike through to the bottom with a vehicle shuttle.

From the lower trailhead, it is 1 mile to the first climbing wall where the popular First Dihedral route is located. The second main wall comes around 1.3 or so and Independence Monument is at mile 2.3.

CLIMBING

trad climbing in Monument Canyon
Monument Canyon offers some of the best climbing in the Grand Junction area. Everything from tall, multi-pitch desert towers to technical sport climbs are available. There are some serious classics in Monument Canyon. Otto's Route on Independence Monument is the most obvious example but other routes such as First Dihedral, Get a Life, Desert Solitaire,and others are also excellent quality. The nearby Kissing Couple and Sentinel Spire also provide excellent, challenging and adventurous tower climbing.

Here are just a few of the routes in the Monument Canyon area:

Trad

Tower (by easiest route):
Atop Independence Monument

Independence Monument (4 pitches, 5.8+, Grade III)
Kissing Couple (5 pitches 5.11a, Grade III)
Pipe Organ (5 pitches 5.11+)
Sentinel Spire (3 pitches 5.10)
Get a Life (Clueless Tower) (5 pitches, 5.12c, Grade III)

Wall:

Trad climbing in the Colorado National Monument
Left Dihedral (2 pitches, 5.12- or 5.8+ for first pitch only)
Right Dihedral (1 pitch; 5.9)
Out of the Fryingpan (1 pitch, 5.9)
Route 2 (1 pitch, 5.9)
Route 4 (1 pitch, 5.9+)
Desert Solitaire (6 pitches, 5.11a A1, Grade III)

Sport

Circle, Square, and the Triangle (5.10a)
Wingate Warrior (5.11a)
Higher Mind Dynamics (5.11)
Friends Cant Be Trusted (5.12b)
(note: there is a bolting ban in the Monument. For full climbing regulations please check this link to the National Park Service website.)

A topo of the main wall in Lower Monument Canyon:

Route topo of Lower Monument Canyon


The routes in this photo:

1- Circle, Square, and the Triangle [Sport, 100 feet, 5.10a] **
2- Luhr's Route aka Right Dihedral [Trad, 90 feet, 5.8+] **
3- Higher Mind Dynamics [Sport, 100 feet, 5.11] *
4- Friends Can't Be Trusted [Sport, 110 feet, 5.12b] **
5- First Dihedral aka Left Dihedral (first pitch) [Trad, 50 feet, 5.8+] ***
6- First Dihedral aka Left Dihedral (second pitch) [Trad/aid, 70 feet, 5.10+ C2 or 5.12a] **
7- Carter Route [Trad, 100 feet, 5.9] *
8- Euro Route [Trad, 100 feet, 5.11 (class 4 scramble just to get to base)]*

other photos:

A trad climb in Colorado National Monument
Sport climbing in the Colorado National Monument
Bighorn Ram in Colorado National Monument
Desert tower climbing in Colorado
Independence Tower in Colorado National Monument
Monument Canyon in Colorado National Monument

This is only a small sample of the climbing in the area and there is likely still potential for development in the Canyon's hidden corners (which are numerous). This place is vast; the more effort you are willing to put in the more you are going to get out. For a deeper discussion of the trad and sport climbing in Monument Canyon check out the Mountain Project link in the external links section.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

Monument Canyon is within the borders of the Colorado National Monument. Check with the National Park Service for special regulations  One important rule for climbers is that bolting is no longer allowed within that canyon except to replace old dangerous hardware. The addition of new bolts is forbidden. Season raptor closures also affect several walls. Check with the National Park Service to find out when they are in effect.

TRIP REPORTS

What Does Independence Mean to You?- A weekend climbing in Unaweep and the Colorado National Monument, including a day at the Lower Monument Canyon slabs and an ascent of Otto's Route on Independence Tower.

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